Success in the MLB Draft is, at its best, an inexact science. At its worst, it can be an illogical, unpredictable challenge. Hall of Famers have gone No. 1 overall and No. 1,390 overall. Sure things flame out. Unknowns become stars. More than in any other sport, teams simply do not know what the future holds.
Still, an inordinate number of Major Leaguers come from the first round. That's where teams invest most heavily, and a first-round selection often guarantees a prospect at least a chance. What they do with it is up to them.
The 2021 MLB Draft will begin on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET and will be live on MLB Network, ESPN and MLB.com. As we get ready, we attempted to answer a simple question: Who is the best pick ever at each of the first 30 spots?
1. Alex Rodriguez, Mariners, 1993
You can't do much better than the Mariners did with the top overall pick in 1993. They selected the high school shortstop from Miami that scouts said was as close to a sure thing as anyone in Draft history. And that kid became A-Rod.
Honorable mention: Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., Joe Mauer, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg
2. Reggie Jackson, A's, 1966
The Mets owned the No. 1 overall pick in 1966, but passed on Jackson, then the best college player in the country. New York selected high-school catcher Steve Chilcott instead. Chilcott never reached the Majors.
That left Jackson for the A's, who relocated to Oakland during Jackson's sophomore season. Jackson won an MVP Award and a couple of World Series titles with the A's, then became Mr. October with the Yankees. Jackson retired No. 6 on the all-time home run list.
Honorable mention: Justin Verlander, Will Clark, Josh Beckett, Kris Bryant
3. Robin Yount, Brewers, 1973
The two can't-miss prospects in 1973 were high-school lefty David Clyde and University of Colorado catcher John Stearns, selected by the Rangers and Phillies with the first two picks. Those two clubs missed out on the two Hall of Famers who would be selected with the next two picks. Yount, and his 3,142 hits, was the first, going No. 3 overall to Milwaukee. He spent his entire 20-year career there.
Honorable mention: Paul Molitor, Evan Longoria, Matt Williams, Manny Machado
4. Dave Winfield, Padres, 1973
It was a pretty good first round in 1973, as Winfield went directly after Yount, at No. 4 to the Padres. It's easy to forget that Winfield was actually drafted as a pitcher coming out of the University of Minnesota, and that he turned down offers from the NFL and NBA to play baseball. He ended up becoming one of the best outfielders of all time.
Honorable mention: Barry Larkin, Kevin Brown, Thurman Munson
5. Buster Posey, Giants, 2008
Posey won the Golden Spikes Award, given to the best amateur baseball player in the U.S., as a junior at Florida State in 2008 before sliding down to the Giants at pick No. 5. He'll likely be remembered as the best player ever drafted there, and his three World Series rings don't hurt that case.
Honorable mention: Dwight Gooden, Dale Murphy, Mark Teixeira, Ryan Braun
6. Barry Bonds, Pirates, 1985
Seven MVP Awards, the all-time home run mark and the most dominant five-year stretch of hitting this side of Babe Ruth help Bonds top even Derek Jeter, who famously slid to No. 6 in 1992.
What's different about Bonds' Draft class is that four of the five players picked before him ended up becoming successful Major Leaguers: B.J. Surhoff, Clark, Bobby Witt and Larkin.
Honorable mention: Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Zack Greinke, Anthony Rendon
7. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers, 2006
The Dodgers chose the ace who will go down as one of the best left-handed starters of all time at No. 7 in 2006, selecting Kershaw out of Highland Park High School in Texas.
The Royals passed on Kersh at No. 1 for Luke Hochevar. The Rockies did the same at No. 2, for Greg Reynolds. The Rays, at least, got a face of the franchise in Longoria at No. 3, but somehow there were still three more picks until Kershaw came around -- Brad Lincoln, Brandon Morrow and Andrew Miller.
Honorable mention: Frank Thomas, Troy Tulowitzki, Prince Fielder
8. Todd Helton, Rockies, 1995
Helton was picked by the Padres in the second round in 1992 out of high school, but opted to attend the University of Tennessee. The decision worked out pretty well, for Helton and Colorado, where he was a five-time All-Star in 17 seasons.
Honorable mention: Francisco Lindor, Jim Abbott
9. Kevin Appier, Royals, 1987
An overall solid body of work led Appier, who was a can't-miss prospect in the 1987 Draft, to 54.9 career WAR. That's why he tops the list of No. 9 picks -- a group of players who had very good but not historically great careers. Maybe Javier Báez (2011) will take this spot someday.
Honorable mention: Barry Zito, Michael Cuddyer, Ron Darling, Báez
10. Madison Bumgarner, Giants, 2007
Bumgarner, one of the best postseason pitchers of all time, went 10th overall to the Giants in 2007, a year before San Francisco selected Posey. The southpaw has three World Series championships and a World Series MVP Award to his name.
Honorable mention: Ted Simmons, Mark McGwire, Robin Ventura, Tim Lincecum
11. Max Scherzer, D-backs, 2006
Scherzer helped put the University of Missouri on the map when it came to fostering starting pitching talent, as he dominated the Big 12 before going 11th overall to the D-backs in 2006. Now Mad Max has three Cy Young Awards, two no-hitters, a 20-strikeout game and a World Series trophy.
Honorable mention: Andrew McCutchen, George Springer, Greg Luzinski
12. Nomar Garciaparra, Red Sox, 1994
The Brewers selected Garciaparra in the fifth round out of high school in 1991, but he chose to attend Georgia Tech instead. Three years later the shortstop went No. 12 overall to the Red Sox, one pick before Paul Konerko and two before his college and future MLB teammate Jason Varitek.
Honorable mention: Kirk Gibson, Billy Wagner, Jered Weaver, Yasmani Grandal
13. Manny Ramirez, Indians, 1991
Ramirez is the best hitter and one of the most accomplished players to ever be drafted out of New York City. The 12-time All-Star grew up in the Washington Heights section of the Bronx.
Honorable mention: Chris Sale, Konerko, Frank Tanana
14. Jason Varitek, Mariners, 1994
The two-time World Series champ was drafted three times, including two first-round selections out of Georgia Tech. When he signed, following his senior season, it was after the Mariners took him 14th overall in 1994. He was traded to Boston in 1997, where he made his MLB debut.
Honorable mention: Tino Martinez, Derrek Lee, José Fernández, Jason Heyward
15. Jim Rice, Red Sox, 1971
Chase Utley would be a deserving choice here, too, but we're giving the edge to the Hall of Famer Rice. Boston selected the future MVP out of the South Carolina high school scene in 1971.
Honorable mention: Utley, Chris Carpenter, Scott Kazmir
16. Lance Berkman, Astros, 1997
The switch-hitting Killer B tops a solid group of hitters that highlight this Draft spot. The Astros snatched Berkman from Rice University in 1997.
Honorable mention: Shawn Green, Lance Parrish, Nick Swisher
17. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays, 1995
It took some time for Doc to reach the potential that led Toronto to draft him this high in 1995, but once he did, he really did.
Honorable mention: Cole Hamels, Gary Matthews, Brad Lidge
18. Corey Seager, Dodgers, 2012
Scouts knew about Seager from a young age thanks to his older brother, Mariners third baseman Kyle. Even if they hadn't, Seager would have emerged as a top prospect in a loaded 2012 Draft.
Honorable mention: Willie Wilson, R.A. Dickey, Sonny Gray
19. Roger Clemens, Red Sox, 1983
Pretty easy selection here. Boston's 1983 first-round pick out of the University of Texas went on to become one of the best right-handed pitchers ever.
Honorable mention: Bobby Grich, Mike Scioscia
20. Mike Mussina, Orioles, 1990
The Orioles drafted "Moose" twice -- once out of high school and then in the first round out of Stanford in 1990 -- before he pitched 10 stellar seasons in Baltimore. Now he's a Hall of Famer.
Honorable mention: CC Sabathia, Torii Hunter, Bob Welch
21. Rick Sutcliffe, Dodgers, 1974
Sutcliffe won NL Rookie of the Year honors five years after L.A. drafted him out of high school in Missouri, and he won a Cy Young Award five years after that.
Honorable mention: Todd Worrell
22. Craig Biggio, Astros, 1987
The undersized kid taken out of Seton Hall University is one of two Hall of Famers from the 1987 Draft class, alongside No. 1 overall pick Ken Griffey Jr.
Honorable mention: Rafael Palmeiro, Chet Lemon, Jayson Werth
23. Mo Vaughn, Red Sox, 1989
Two Seton Hall guys in a row? Vaughn and Biggio were teammates in college, then occasionally were opponents toward the end of Vaughn's career. The Red Sox drafted the future MVP No. 23 overall in 1989.
Honorable mention: Jason Kendall, Jacoby Ellsbury, Christian Yelich
24. Rondell White, Expos, 1990
A talented outfielder for seven teams, White's best seasons came with the Expos, including a 28-homer, 16-stolen base campaign in 1997.
Honorable mention: Chad Billingsley, Walker Buehler
25. Mike Trout, Angels, 2009
Nearly every team in baseball will have to live with the fact that it passed on Trout in the first round in 2009. And it probably hurts every single day.
Honorable mention: Chuck Knoblauch, Matt Cain, Matt Chapman
26. Alan Trammell, Tigers, 1976
Trammell was part of a 1976 Draft class that was full of amazing steals. His selection at No. 26 overall came in the second round -- and that was even ahead of fellow Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson, Jack Morris (Trammell's teammate in Detroit) and Wade Boggs. Detroit actually drafted three Hall of Famers in '76 -- Trammell, Morris and Ozzie Smith in the seventh round -- but Smith didn't sign.
Honorable mention: Dave Henderson, Dan Plesac
27. Vida Blue, A's, 1967
Blue was the Kansas City A's second-round pick in 1967, but by the time he debuted in 1969 they were in Oakland. Two years later, at age 21, he won the AL MVP Award and Cy Young Award.
Honorable mention: Rick Porcello, Todd Jones
28. Lee Smith, Cubs, 1975
Smith was the last Cubs player drafted by the Wrigley family ownership to make the Major Leagues. The Hall of Fame closer was the all-time leader in saves when he retired.
Honorable mention: Charles Johnson
29. George Brett, Royals, 1971
Here's a fun "What if?" scenario: How different would baseball history look if the Royals had selected Mike Schmidt, who was also available with this pick in 1971, instead of Brett?
Honorable mention: Adam Wainwright
30. Mike Schmidt, Phillies, 1971
Brett, then Schmidt? That's an incredible back-to-back pairing, which is how the Draft's second round unfolded in 1971. The two Hall of Famers ended up with 5,388 hits and 865 homers between them.
Honorable mention: David Wells